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Open Mic: Bird-window collisions and “green” buildings on Duke’s campus

At the mic: Scott Winton and Natalia Ocampo-Penuela

A wild bird’s life ends with a thud against glass. Repeat up to one billion times per year and this tragedy becomes a statistic compelling enough to serve as a call-to-arms for conservationists. Many North American bird species are already in severe decline from loss of habitat. Add collisions with windows to the mix and it becomes an almost impossibly uphill climb to save birds.

birds

Any species of bird is susceptible to collisions.

So what can we do?

Step one is to identify the places and types of architecture that cause the most bird-window collisions. This is what Steve Hager and Bradley Cosentino of Augustana College in Illinois have set out to do. They are leading 45 colleges from across North America in a coordinated survey effort. Students collect bird carcasses each fall during migration and measure window area. We hope this dataset will help us better understand why birds crash into buildings, and where this is the biggest issue.

Of all the participating schools, our own Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has proven to be the most egregious killer of birds. We cannot help but wonder why.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

The erection of a major new building at Duke has become an annual ritual. All new buildings meet the rigorous and prestigious Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design (LEED) certification. Many coveted LEED points can be earned by heavy use of large windows and glass facades for natural lighting and views to the outside. Is it possible that our noble environmental intentions are taking a toll on migratory bird life?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The bird collisions team at Duke University is now leading a study to determine if LEED certified buildings are more likely to cause collisions than non-certified buildings. We invite anyone affiliated with a university (with or without LEED-certified buildings) to join in this effort.

Join us in tracking the impacts of collisions on bird populations.

Join us in tracking the impacts of collisions on bird populations.

Not a tenured professor with an army of undergraduates at your command? No problem! Anybody anywhere can contribute to a parallel project using the citizen science database, iNaturalist. Join us and help understand and reduce bird-window collisions world-wide.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

As for Duke, the university’s project managers and architects have been very receptive to our radical bird-oriented ideas. The Graduate and Professional Student Counsel recently passed a resolution asking for an end to the carnage by adopting bird-friendly design practices and retrofitting the deadliest of buildings. So there appears to be a lot of positive momentum. We hope that soon, at least with regard to bird-window collision deaths, Duke will no longer be #1.

Read more about these projects in the websites:

Duke Project: http://sites.duke.edu/birdcollisions/

LEED Project: http://sites.duke.edu/leedcollisions/

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scott-wintonScott Winton is a PhD candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment where he studies the effects of waterfowl on greenhouse gas emissions at Mattamuskeet NWR in eastern North Carolina. He is a native of Durham, NC, and studied geology and biology at Brown University where he founded the Brown Student Bird Club (“Brown Boobies”). Scott has spearheaded the push asking that Duke to mitigate bird-window collision deaths on campus.  He also serves as vice president of the Carolina Bird Club, for which he leads birding field trips across the Carolinas and in the Neotropics. He writes two blogs: Birds in a Changing World, for the Nicholas School of the Environment; and Birds on the Brain, an independent blog about his birding adventures. 

NataliaNatalia Ocampo-Penuela is a PhD candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment where she studies conservation of endemic and threatened birds in her native country, Colombia.  She leads the Bird-Window Collision Project at Duke after leading a similar effort in her undergraduate University, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Natalia also studies migration patterns of Orinoco Geese and leads birding field trips around the Carolinas and in the Neotropics. 

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